MIT professor Angela Belcher has been named the recipient of this year’s $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors an outstanding inventor dedicated to improving the world through technological invention. Belcher, who heads up the Biomolecular Materials Group at MIT, combines organic and inorganic materials to create novel electronic materials for a variety of applications, such as solar cells, fuel, environmentally friendly batteries and medical diagnostics. (Earlier post.)
One of her recent inventions is a lithium-ion battery powered by engineered viruses. The batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as current rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices.
Belcher has applied the same process to improve the efficiency of alternative solar cells such as dye-synthesized solar cells by genetically engineering viruses to more efficiently collect electrons in the solar-cell system, improving the energy production by 33%. Belcher’s method adds just one simple step to standard manufacturing of this type of solar cell, making it possible to implement in existing facilities.
Belcher’s technology has given rise to two companies. In 2004, she co-founded Cambrios Technologies, which develops electronic materials for transparent coatings used for touch screens, LCDs and other devices. In 2007, Belcher co-founded Siluria Technologies, which converts lower-value methane gas into high-value liquid transportation fuel. (Earlier post.)